One of the many comments I often hear when talking about pornography and young people is, “What’s the big deal? I saw my dad’s playboy when I was a kid and I’m ok.” This statement is true on many accounts. Yes, many people grew up sneaking a peek at a Playboy or Penthouse magazine and they never developed a pornography addiction. True, many people watched pornography when they were young and never developed a pornography addiction. So why are we worried about this now?
Today’s pornography is not your father’s porn. Not only has the internet made access to pornography nearly unlimited, it has also shaped the types of pornography available. Today’s internet pornography is much more aggressive than the pornography produced in the pre-internet age and when it was in its early days. Studies show that 88% of scenes in the most popular pornography show physical aggression and 94% of that aggression is aimed at women. Common sexually aggressive acts include slapping, choking, gagging and verbal aggression. Young people who are being exposed to pornography without any education about it are viewing pornography that is frequently aggressive. This often becomes their idea of what sex is supposed to look like. Therefore, young people can come away with the belief that sex is supposed to be rough and aggressive all the time.
Not only does today’s pornography frequently show acts of sexual aggression directed toward women, but it also overwhelmingly shows that women enjoy these acts of aggression. So not only does current pornography tell its viewers that it is ok to be aggressive in sex, it also tells them that women like it. What teens see on pornography videos, they frequently act out in real life. This means that they will possibly try these aggressive acts out with a partner as a matter of course. They won’t talk to their partner about them or negotiate consent.
What we are talking about is the mainstreaming of aggressive sex. I do want to take a minute to differentiate that from BDSM practices. Some people are aroused by acts of physical aggression, humiliation, etc. There is one key difference between acts practiced by those who embrace BDSM and what is seen in pornography. A key concept in the practice of BDSM is consent and care. People who are engaging together have talked about behaviors, consent and safe words. They have communicated about the sexual aggression ahead of time. This is not a practice that mainstream pornography is depicting. Mainstream pornography is often depicting rough sex as something that every woman wants.
Yes, many people who grew up before internet pornography often did view magazines or movies on that old VHS or even DVD player. The pornography that was readily available pre-internet is fundamentally different than what is frequently produced in the fast paced internet pornography age. When you think about your child’s exposure to online pornography, please do not think of it in terms of a rather innocuous Playboy centerfold. Parents need to be aware of the nature of internet pornography and what their children may be seeing. It becomes the parent’s responsibility to teach them that what they see in pornography is not what real life sex looks like. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach about consent and treating partners with dignity and respect.
For more on this topic, please watch The Porn Factor available on www.itstimewetalked.com.au. Also, please read The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age for more detailed information on the effect of pornography on children and how to talk about it.
In my book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age, I write about the baggage that can interfere with a parent talking to their child about sex, pornography, masturbation or any other sexual topic. This topic recently came up in one of my therapy sessions. I have a long-time client whose husband is in recovery from problematic sexual behavior and she has worked a strong program of recovery and self-discovery herself. She and her husband have several wonderful children, the eldest of which is entering pre-pubescence and the age of sexual curiosity. My client is a great mother and knows she needs to talk to her son (after recently accidentally finding him touching himself). She is also introspective and self-aware so she knows she is having a hard time even thinking about the conversations.
Why is my client struggling to talk to her child? Is it more than the normal incoming awkward conversation? My client thinks so. Being the partner of someone with out-of-control sexual behavior (they identify as sex addiction) means that, for her, sex and sexuality no longer have the same meaning that they once did. Being in a relationship with someone who engaged in secretive and betraying sexual behavior has skewed how she thinks of most things sexual. She no longer thinks that pornography is an “ok” thing. She struggles with what the obsessive objectification of women by her partner has done to her self-esteem. She wondered if she even knew what was normal sexuality for an adolescent. Could she bring herself to say that masturbation was a healthy behavior? Could she talk to her son about sex without inducing shame? Does she trust her partner to talk to her son about sex given his past issues?
What did we come up with? First, I offered my client resources. Both my book and the 30 Days of Sex Talks books by Empower Kids. These are great resources for parents. Second, we practiced talking about sex and what is healthy. It is normal for kids to find touching themselves pleasurable. She felt she would be able to talk to her son about this behavior and add a discussion of boundaries to it. Masturbation is something that should be done in private. He needed to agree to shut his door, lock his door and not touch himself around others. She also would agree to no longer just open his door but respect his privacy and knock before she entered. She also decided that she wanted to talk to her son about reasons for masturbation. She wanted to let him know that using masturbation to quell a sexual urge was a normal thing. She wanted him to know that doing so to self soothe bad emotions could be problematic. In this, she also will talk to him about other, non-sexual ways to self soothe.
Her next struggle was to talk about pornography. Her son is 12 and the average age of first exposure to online pornography is around 10 or 11. It is likely that, even though all her devices are locked down, he has either seen or heard about it. My client struggled to separate her own feelings about pornography from the discussion. We settled on just talking about facts. Pornography is something that is around and a lot of people look at. Has he seen it? What reaction has he had? We also talked about discussing with him what pornography portrays. Today’s mainstream pornography does not do much to show safe sex, mutuality, or anything relational. She decided to talk to him about how it does not portray what often goes on between partners. Most people do not look like porn stars nor do most people act like porn stars when being sexual.
As we have not yet had our next appointment, I cannot share the results of these conversations. I share them with you to show one of the many ways a parent’s sexual “baggage” can interfere with the education of their child(ren). I am grateful that this mom was willing to spend an hour working through the hard stuff, namely her own issues with sex, to find a way to provide an educational and non-shaming way to talk to her son.
Sometimes I think I should rename this blog, the parenting chronicles of my amazing friend in North Carolina. I wrote about her experiences before when she shared with me that her eldest daughter was witness to a friend sexting on the school bus at the beginning of the school year. This week, she shared something she overheard while her youngest child, 7, was playing with a neighbor.
My friend, let’s call her Pam to give her some privacy, was outside overseeing her children play with the neighbor children. She overtly acknowledges that she loves these neighbor children. They are very good kids. Their parents are great parents who are active in their lives, in the community and in the church. Pam’s kids love these kids too. As a reminder, Pam is a proactive parent. She talks to her children about all things, including sexuality, sexting, etc. She has filters on her family’s technology as she has children of multiple ages and does not want them accessing inappropriate material in the home. But she also knows that she has little control over what goes on in the homes of their friends or on the technology of her children’s friends.
She relayed the following story: “Yesterday my youngest, who is merely 7 years old, was playing with some neighborhood kids in my side yard….
One of them had a cell phone with her that has a plan and data so she can watch whatever she wants wherever she wants whenever she wants. I heard my child complaining about how she doesn’t have a phone and about how annoyed she is that our internet is completely locked down and they don’t get to surf the web…as she put it. The little girl who had the phone chimed in and said she gets to watch whatever she wants. That she found videos of people who kiss each other in their private places. I almost fell over”
Being in possession of emotion regulation skills, Pam did not freak out but made a mental note. She now is going to head over to the neighbor’s house and let them know what she overheard. She is nervous about the conversation because she really likes all parties involved and she doesn’t want any hard feelings between anyone in the relationships.
What lessons do we learn here? Access to the internet should be age appropriate. Young children, like Pam’s child’s 8-year-old friend, should not have unfettered access to the internet. It is simply not age appropriate. Additionally, she should not have unfettered access to the internet without any parental discussion of what she might find. As the girl gets older, in conjunction with good discussions between parents and child, those restrictions can be lessened.
This story brings home what those of us in the field already know. Young children are accidentally exposed to pornography. It happens. And it happens a lot. When I teach, we use the statistic that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is 10. I also always use the proviso that this is old data so the age is likely younger, in this case 8. This child did not intentionally look for pornography. She saw a video of something that she did not understand. She also did not talk to her parents about it. However, she knew that it was to be kept secret.
The moral of this story. Please don’t be in DENIAL. Start talking to your children about this topic early in an age appropriate fashion. Do not let their sex education begin with the accidental viewing of pornography. Do not give young children unfiltered access to the internet. They are not developmentally ready yet! Most of all, BE AWARE and TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN.
To learn more about the effects of cybersex on children and how to talk to your child, order my book: The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.
Last week I shared the story of my long time friend’s experience with her child early in the school year. Her 5th grader watching her 8th grade friend sexting on the bus. As you might imagine, the story does not end there. After the initial conversation with her daughter (which went amazingly well because she talks to her children about the hard stuff), she is left with the question of “now what?”
The “now what” question is not about what to do with her own child, she will keep up the open communication with her. The question arises as to what to do with the information she now possesses, that this young girl is sending pictures of herself to boys in the school.
As we continued our conversation, we worked through the options. My friend’s first option is to do nothing and not tell anyone about the behavior. This option did not sit well with my friend. She felt that if this was her child who was sexting on the bus, she would want to know so she can address the behavior.
The next option was to tell an administrator at the school that a child was sexting on the bus. This option also did not sit too well with my friend. In telling someone at the school, the girl would possibly end up getting in a lot of trouble. It also opened up the opportunity for a large scale “sexting scandal” like those we read about in the papers. My friend is not one to try to make chaos and drama so a large scale investigation and possible scandal were out.
Option number three was to talk to the parents of the girl. This sounds like a straight forward option, but in talking about this option, we realized it is not as straight forward as it seems. First, would the parents of the girl be able to hear the news of their child’s behavior without being defensive, in denial or reactionary? Though my friend knows the parents from the community, she does not know them well enough to gauge what type of reaction they will have to the news.
The other concern in telling the parents, is that they will, inevitably, (we hope) address the sexting behavior with their child. It will be quite obvious to the girl where the news came from. My friend feared for the ramifications this might have on her daughter. Would she be labeled a “snitch?” Would she be ostracized by this friend or by other kids at the school? Would there be a social consequence for her daughter for telling her parents what was happening on the bus? Though as adults, we might not think these are big concerns, they are huge concerns to a child in school, where the social environment is hugely important. Add to this the fact that my friend’s daughter did not want her to tell the other girl’s parents out of her fear for any of the aforementioned possible consequences.
In the end, my friend decided that she is both a parent and a responsible person. She would want someone to tell her if her child was sexting. She also has a real fear for what may happen to the young girl who is sexting and does not want her to experience any long term consequences from her behavior. She continues to talk to her own child about the entire experience. Luckily, her daughter is a pretty amazing kid (like her mom) and has already decided to distance herself from the friend because the friend’s behavior makes her uncomfortable.
I share these stories for several reasons. First, real life accounts are often more powerful than book learning. Second, I want you all to know that even if you talk to your kids proactively about cybersex, it doesn’t end there. There will be tricky landscapes to navigate throughout their school career.
Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the founder of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and the author of The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen about Cybersex and and Pornography in the Digital Age.
I have a dear friend who I have known since grade school. She is the mother of three children, the oldest being in 8th grade. Given my profession and her being an all-around fabulous mother, we tend to have conversations about sexuality, pornography, sexting and children.
I recently reposted my blog on Child Pornography Prevention on social media. This was inspired by a local priest being arrested for possession of child pornography. From this, my friend and I had a great conversation I thought I would share (with her permission).
My prevention work focuses more on parents than it does on children. I want parents to start talking to their kids about sex and pornography. Parents tend to not do this. There are many reasons, mostly the fact that it is awkward and embarrassing.
“Talking to my oldest daughter about these things is ….hard. For both of us. She is 11. She uses the internet.”
My friend also employs all the tools she can to ensure her children are not unwittingly exposed to pornography online. She and her husband use parental controls but we all know sometimes this is not enough.
“We have parental controls. They don’t always work as they should. She goes to kids houses where there are computers, these kids have smart phones etc., not locked down AT ALL….because they have ” good kids ” who wouldn’t bother to look at ” that stuff”
As my friend points out, as a parent, you do what you can in your own home to avoid unwanted exposure to this content, but you don’t know what the parents of your child’s friends are doing. Much of the exposure to pornography is via peers. Just because your house is cybersafe, doesn’t mean that someone else’s house is.
So my friend and her husband have taken the leap and had the uncomfortable conversations with their daughter about sex, cybersex, pornography, sexting and sexualization of others.
“We decided we had to go there. The conversation continues because we have opened a door and she now knows we are capable of having these conversations. Is it fun? No. Do I look forward to them? Sure…like I do a root canal….but they are imperative. As are these conversations.”
So what happens when you talk to your child often about sexuality? It becomes more comfortable. They learn that they can safely bring their concerns to you because the topic isn’t taboo and you won’t react badly. They trust you with this information.
The end result of this trust was on display for my friend and her daughter just a few weeks into the school year. My friend’s daughter is in 8th grade.
“She has already talked to me THIS school year about her 8th grade friend on the bus sexting.”
Her daughter came to her this year with this concern because they had already talked about these issues. It was a topic that, though still uncomfortable for both of them, was an approachable topic. Her daughter has the knowledge to arm herself in the digital age and to make better choices for herself as she interacts online with her peers.
Education about sexuality and cybersex is imperative in todays’ world. In my friend’s words;
“I used to think I was a good enough parent to protect her. I decided to educate her on how to protect herself as well. The education is never ending”
My dear friend ended our conversation with this quote…which is dear to my heart.
I couldn’t agree with her more. Many parents don’t think that their child would sext. They don’t think that their child would look at pornography. I implore you to not be in denial. Sexting on the bus in 8th grade is a reality. If your child is sexting or looking at online pornography, it is not a reflection of your parenting skills. It is a reflection of the age we live in.
Talk to you children, please.
Dr. Weeks is the Author of The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.
The digital world is ever changing and parents frequently have a hard time keeping up with what their children are doing online. Many parents are trying hard to lay down rules and boundaries regarding device use and cybersafety for their children. While these boundaries are wonderful and necessary things when parenting in the digital world, a new study released by the National Cyber Security Alliance reveals that there is a very large “digital disconnect” between parents and their teens regarding teens’ online behavior, their online experiences and how they resolve online issues.
First, an update on how teens are using tech today (as of June 2016 when the study ended). Most teens are accessing digital content on their smartphones (86%). In second place are desktop computers (63%). Teens are spending a lot of time plugged in. The study found that for teens aged 13 to 17, they (62%) spend at least five hours a day plugged in.
Where are they going? Youtube is the place to be, with 91% of teens using Youtube consistently. As for social media apps, Snapchat is the current most popular app with (66%) of teens using this app and a close second is Instagram with 65% of teens using this social media app. Facebook is losing its prominence though 61% of teens surveyed are still using the social media site.
One of the most interesting findings of the survey is that parents think they are creating and enforcing rules around technology usage and cybersafety with their children. However, when their children are asked about these issues (away from mom and dad) there turns out to be a huge disconnect about the rules. For example, 67% of parents say that their child knows that they are to come to them when they experience an online incident that makes them uncomfortable or scared. However, only 32% of teens thought that this was a rule that existed in their family. Teens were much more likely to go to a peer to address the issue than they were their parents.
The study looked at 12 potential tech rules in a family. The difference between the percentage of parents who said a rule exists and their children who agreed was huge. For example, 54% of parents said that their child had to ask permission before downloading a new app or game and only 16% of their teens thought this rule existed. 50% of parents said that their child was required to share their passwords with them while only 16% of their teens reported this rule. Additionally, only 9% of parents said that their household had NO rules about tech while 28% of the teens thought that they had no rules.
These differences show that parents and their teens are not on the same page when it comes to tech use in the household. The good news is that teens still think that their parents are the most important source for online safety and security information.
These differences clearly highlight that though parents think that they may be doing a good job of communicating about tech to their children, the message is getting lost somewhere in translation. Parents need to take an approach to technology that makes it a common part of the household dialogue and conversation with their children. Though you can never make a teen talk to you, demonstrating some tech savvy yourself and talking to your child regularly about their digital world makes the topic commonplace and increases the chances that they will come to you when there is an online issue.
To access the full study, go to file:///C:/Users/Jennifer/Downloads/Keeping_Up_With_Generation_App_Findings_Summary.pdf
Find out how to talk to your teen about cybersex with Dr. Weeks’ new book: The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK recently published the results of a survey about sexting they conducted this year. They were inspired to find out what parents know about sexting by the enormous number of people who visit their sexting advice webpage.
NSPCC conducted both in person surveys and online questionnaires Here is what they found.
Most parents in the UK (73%) think that sexting is always harmful but only 39% thought that their child would engage in the behavior. Many parents did not know that underage sexting (taking or sending naked pictures) was illegal.
The good news is that most parents would seek out help if they found out their child was sexting. The BAD news is that only half of the parents thought they would be able to find the right support.
Parents are STILL not talking to their children about sexting. This survey showed that only 42% of parents had spoken to their child about sexting once. Unfortunately, 19% of parents had no intention of ever talking to their child about the issue. Parents appeared to be most uncomfortable about conversations relating to sexting and the law.
A positive take away from this survey is that despite the 83% of parents who have never received any information about sexting, and the 84% of parents who never looked for the information, 50% of the parents did actually want more information. Parents are looking for information about healthy relationships, how to start conversations with their child about sexting as well as how young people experience sexting in their peer group.
As someone who works in this field, it is still discouraging that so many parents have not talked to their child about sexting and it is even more discouraging that they don’t have good information at their fingertips. With news articles about sexting scandals and teens popping up in the news on a daily basis, the denial of parents that their own child might engage in this behavior is alarming.
This survey is the exact reason why I wrote my new book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age. Without knowing it (or taking my cues from the headlines) my book addresses the stated learning needs of these parents. It would be helpful to parents and children alike if schools and communities started to educate parents about these issues on a regular basis, providing parents with the resources they both need and desire.
As my therapy practice continues to be comprised of more and more child pornography offenders, I continue to seek ways to prevent others from becoming exposed to or involved with child pornography.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man who introduced me to yet another way in which people can be exposed to child pornography. The normal routes for exposure are through peer to peer file sharing programs or TOR sites. The man I met yesterday was exposed to child pornography through the chat app, ChatRoulette.
For those of you who are not familiar with ChatRoulette, it is an app that allows you to interface with another user via your webcam or camera on your phone, tablet, etc. As the Roulette name implies, you have no idea who you are going to be paired up with as there are users of all ages from all over the world on the app. You can interact with the person you are connected to for as long or as short a period of time as you want. We have long known that ChatRoulette is a venue for people to expose themselves online or to interact sexually. Since its inception, there is a pretty good chance that when you go on the app, you will run into someone masturbating on the webcam or engaging in some other sexual act.
In more recent history, ChatRoulette is now being used for other sexual purposes. There are some users who are showing child pornography on their screens. How does this happen? When you connect with a random user, instead of seeing another person, they have their side of the interaction configured so that the entire screen is used to play child pornography videos. As you can’t choose a user, this is truly a random experience and one that most people are not prepared for.
I would call unintended exposure to child pornography a trauma. These are horrific images and you can’t erase them out from your memory. I have had to view these images for court cases and they linger, unwillingly, in your brain for days. This is my reaction when I know what type of images I am going to see. I can only imagine the reaction of a person who has no desire to see these images and unsuspectingly views them on a screen. An even bigger concern is that a young person who is using this app may be exposed to this imagery as well. Even if the images are traumatic for an adult to watch, we can make more sense of them than a child can. Unexpected exposure to child pornography could be even more damaging to a child.
As ChatRoulette engages in random connections, you cannot seek out those who are displaying child pornography. You also can’t avoid them as you don’t know what user is going to show up on your screen next. As with any of these types of apps, they can be fun or they can be dangerous. It is all in the hands of the user. Technically, the app is listed as Mature 17+. However, that doesn’t stop minors from using the app.
As a parent, be aware of what apps your child is using. I would advise that minors not be allowed to use this app due to the potentially graphic sexual exposure from some users. If you do allow your child to use this app, please be sure that you know what they could be seeing. Be prepared to talk to your child about possible exposure before it happens and after it happens.
Absolute Denial: “No not my child! My son doesn’t look at porn online.” “My daughter would never send a naked picture of herself.”
Very recently a young teenage girl was lured into a meeting with a college man on the messaging app Kik and she was killed. This tragic event has spurned a barrage of news articles and blogs about the dangers of the app Kik and what parents need to know. While these blogs and news articles are helpful, they are a little late.
Moment of honesty. Sometimes I get really upset at parents. Truly, I don’t get angry at parents, I get upset at denial. Kik is not new. Other messaging apps like Kik are not new. Those of us who work in the field and deal with cybersex issues have been talking about Kik and other messaging apps for a really long time. If you read a newspaper or see any online news, you know that these types of apps are all over the news. I find it hard to believe that parents don’t know that these things exist. Unfortunately, many parents are stuck in DENIAL.
Denial is a concept with which anyone who works with addiction or knows an addict is familiar. Addiction author Terrance Gorski identifies 12 types of denial (http://www.tgorski.com/clin_mod/dmc/denial_checklist.htm). An addict in denial won’t admit they have a problem, to themselves or others. Denial is not just a problem of addiction. I see Parental Denial frequently in the work that we do with sex addiction and cybersex issues.
So what do I mean by parental denial. Parental denial is a place that many parents, even aware parents, live when they think about their child’s engagement in cybersex or use of online pornography. I have encountered countless smart, aware, on-top-of-things parents, who categorically deny that their child has seen online pornography, sent a sext, received a sext, or engaged in some type of sexual activity on an app. Because of this denial, parents don’t talk to their children about their digital media use.
When their child gets into the therapy room, we find out that, yes, in fact, they have seen pornography online. Sometimes they are looking at it A LOT. Most of the time we find out that they have been sent a sexual message, though they may not have sent one back. They message all the time on a number of apps, so many in fact, that it is hard for someone over about 16 to keep up. These parents think that because they have smart, responsible, and kind children, these children would not engage in anything related to cybersex. Facts are facts. These may be great, wonderful teens but they are still teens. Teens are subject to peer pressure and the desire to fit in. The teenage brain is not yet fully developed, leaving them at the mercy of impulsiveness and often poor decision making skills.
Wouldn’t it be better if we all worked from the assumption that all teens have been or will be exposed to sexual material in the digital world. That way, it should become a PRIORITY to talk to your children about sex, sexuality and cybersex. If you are open with your child and talk about these issues, you are engaging in the best kind of prevention there is. Openness. Honesty. Acknowledging sexuality as a part of humanness that does not need to be shamed and can be discussed openly.
It upsets me to think of how many parents have become aware of their child’s cybersex engagement through law enforcement or school officials, particularly when it is avoidable. . If parents engage in open discussion with their children, the number of children exposed to scandal, legal charges or even physical harm will surely decrease.
To learn more about talking to your child about cybersex, please go to The New Age of Sex Education.